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BY JOHN DeGARMO, ED.D.

Creating Rules and

Expectations with your Foster Child

T

he moment foster children come to live with you, their whole world has changed. There are now different rules and different expectations to follow. Your house is a new environment. There is even a set of new parents. Everything children have known to be true is now different. These are significant changes in the children’s lifestyles. All decision making has been taken away from them. They are in your house against their own will, against their own choice. There is a good chance that any rules and expectations you have for your foster children will not be met. This is especially true in the first few days and weeks. This is a time to gain trust, as well as simply get to know each other. It may take awhile, but as a foster parent, you are in it for the long, tough haul. Make no mistake, it is often times tough. For many foster children, they have been given up on numerous times. You just might be the first adults in their lives who will not give up on them. They may resist you, and may resist all that you have to offer. This is normal for foster children. Remember, they may not

want to be in your home, as it is not their own home. They may not want to live with your family when they come to you, as it is not their own family. You could be the bad guy in this situation, and you can’t expect them to embrace you and your family immediately, or even to like you. It is essential that you build a positive relationship with your foster children. This will help to ease the transition, as well as contribute to the mental well-being of your foster children, let alone the dynamics of your own household. What is also important to remember is that foster children need structure, guidance and consistency in all areas. This includes the setting of rules and expectations in your household. In order for your household to run smoothly, you must set some rules in place, and let your foster children know what expectations you have of them. Perhaps the most important element to setting rules and expectations, though, is to remember where your foster children came

from. They may never have had rules of any kind in their home. Your foster children may not have had the responsibility of doing chores. Homework may be something completely foreign to them, as it may not have been expected or enforced. Manners may not have been taught or modeled in their family. Even personal hygiene may not have been established before they came to live with you. With this in mind, it is important to set up some rules and expectations, early on with your foster child. As expectations and rules may make or break your foster children, you need to be realistic with your expectations. You also need to ensure that your family’s values and moral structure does not change. You probably do not accept violent behavior, disrespectful attitudes, profanity or destruction of property within your home. Yet, many foster children have not been brought up in this manner, and you may find that your foster children do not understand your values and morals. One of your biggest challenges as a foster parent will be to remain patient with your foster children’s progress

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as you teach the kind of behavior you expect from them in your home, and not insist upon it all at once. If you do demand the type of behavior that you expect from your own family, you may push your foster children even further away. Work on the behaviors first that you find most important. When your foster children have improved with one expectation, then it is time to begin focusing on another. All children enjoy praise from the adults in their lives. Sadly, your foster children may never have received praise before, nor had the opportunity to be successful in a given task. When you feel the time is ready, sit down with your foster children and let them know of your expectations. Be specific, yet simple at the same time, in your explanation of your rules and expectations, ensuring that your foster children understand what you would like them to do, and how they should behave. Make sure that they are appropriate for their ages, as well as ability level. These expectations must be reasonable, as they might not be able to handle too much, due to previous living environments. Do not expect perfection, as their abilities might be quite low. There will be times they will resist, or not perform as you would like. This is fairly normal. Instead, look for opportunities to praise your foster children when they do something positive. When establishing rules in your household with your foster children, it is important that you continue to stick to the rules you already have established. Foster children will shake up your household like nothing else. Therefore, continuing to adhere to the rules that you normally have will keep consistency with your family members. Speaking of consistency, it is vital that you are consistent with your rules. Children need consistency in all areas of their lives, and foster children especially so. They may test you, and seek to see if you are consistent. After all, they may have lived in a home where there was no consistency in any aspect of their lives.

Besides your own set of house rules, foster children need some basic rules in order to grow in their health and well-being, as well as to keep them safe and free from harm. SUPERVISION Children always need supervision, and your foster children are no different in that aspect. You need to know where your foster children are at all times. Where are your foster children when school is over? Who is taking your foster children to daycare? What are your foster children involved in outside of your home? Who are the adults in charge when your foster children are not in your presence? Are the children in a safe environment? Are the children in a positive environment? These are all questions that you need to focus on as a foster parent, as it will help to ensure that your foster children are in the most productive and safest environment possible, and out of danger. FRIENDS AND FAMILY Before your foster children were placed in your home, they may have developed strong relationships with others. Perhaps these were friends their own age, or members of their family or family’s circle of friends. These relationships will have a strong influence on your children, both in a positive and negative fashion. It will be most important, whenever possible, to meet your foster children’s friends and parents, and try to not only establish rules, but also attempt to determine if the friend will have a positive or negative influence. While you may have to discourage your foster children from going to a friends’ house, or not permit it, you should still encourage your foster children to invite their friends to your house, and create a welcoming atmosphere in your home. It is much easier to supervise your foster children while they are under your own roof. Your foster children, though, may have a difficult time making new friends, due to the amount of times they have been moved from one home to another. Along with this, they may be hesitant to let others know that they are in foster care, and may

not be open to you meeting these friends. Let them know, though, that they must have permission from you before inviting anyone over. Your foster children will, more than likely, visit with their birth family from time to time. It is not uncommon for foster children to let their birth parents know about your rules, especially if they disagree with your rules and expectations. In hopes of testing your parental limits, they may encourage their own birth parents to speak up in their behalf. Some birth parents have been known to oppose the rules you have set in place. If you have the opportunity, it may be helpful if you meet with the birth family and discuss why you have certain rules and expectations in place. Reassure them that you have not only the safety of their child in mind, but also their best interests, as well. This will demonstrate that you care about their children, as well as respect their concerns. Reprinted by permission of Jessica Kingsley Publishers from The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home, http://www.jkp.com/ catalogue/book/9781849059565 ❁

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BY JOHN DeGARMO, ED.D.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John DeGarmo, Ed.D., has been a foster parent for 11 years, now, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. DeGarmo is the author of “Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story,” and the new book “The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home.” He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, in the United States and overseas. DeGarmo can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, www.drejohndegarmo.com.

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